Direct reprogramming, also known as a trans-differentiation, is a technique to allow mature cells to be converted into other types of cells without inducing a pluripotent stage. It has been suggested as a major strategy to acquire the desired type of cells in cell-based therapies to repair damaged tissues. Studies related to switching the fate of cells through epigenetic modification have been progressing and they can bypass safety issues raised by the virus-based transfection methods. In this study, a protocol was established to directly convert fully differentiated fibroblasts into diverse mesenchymal-lineage cells, such as osteoblasts, adipocytes, chondrocytes, and ectodermal cells, including neurons, by means of DNA demethylation, immediately followed by culturing in various differentiating media. First, 24 h exposure of 5-azacytidine (5-aza-CN), a well-characterized DNA methyl transferase inhibitor, to NIH-3T3 murine fibroblast cells induced the expression of stem-cell markers, that is, increasing cell plasticity. Next, 5-aza-CN treated fibroblasts were cultured in osteogenic, adipogenic, chondrogenic, and neurogenic media with or without bone morphogenetic protein 2 for a designated period. Differentiation of each desired type of cell was verified by quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction/ western blot assays for appropriate marker expression and by various staining methods, such as alkaline phosphatase/alizarin red S/oil red O/alcian blue. These proposed procedures allowed easier acquisition of the desired cells without any transgenic modification, using direct reprogramming technology, and thus may help make it more available in the clinical fields of regenerative medicine.
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